Republican hypocrisy watch: terrorist prisoner edition

Congressional Republicans were fine with the Bush administration’s decision to prosecute the “20th 9/11 hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui in U.S. federal court.

Republicans didn’t hit the panic button when would-be “shoe bomber” Richard Reid was tried in federal court.

Numerous international terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda are already in U.S. prisons. In May, Fred Kaplan reported for Slate:

According to data provided by Traci L. Billingsley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, federal facilities on American soil currently house 216 international terrorists and 139 domestic terrorists. Some of these miscreants have been locked up here since the early 1990s. None of them has escaped. At the most secure prisons, nobody has ever escaped, period.

Now that the Obama administration is planning to try some terrorism suspects in U.S. criminal courts and transfer others to U.S. prisons, GOP leaders want Americans to be very afraid. Iowa’s Republicans have jumped on the bandwagon.

Senator Chuck Grassley has repeatedly raised the prospect of terrorism suspects escaping if they are transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to prisons on the mainland. As many as 60 prisoners might be brought to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Clinton. Grassley’s comments during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday approached self-parody:

“I oppose them even coming to the United States,” the Iowa Republican said during a conference call with Iowa reporters. […]

“I haven’t heard from Iowans, but I would have to have my head in the sand if I didn’t assume that Iowans would be somewhat fearful,” Grassley said.

So, he hasn’t heard from Iowans about the issue, but he’s sure they must be fearful. And why shouldn’t they be, with the right-wing noise machine hyping this issue day and night?

Representative Tom Latham (IA-04) doesn’t make the news often, but this week he wanted everyone to know about the bill he introduced

to block the transfer of dangerous Guantanamo Bay terrorist-detainees to Iowa and 10 other Midwestern states.  Latham intends to formally introduce the legislation, titled the “Keep Terrorists Out of the Midwest Act,” on Thursday.

Let me get this straight: Latham wants to protect residents of 11 Midwestern states from housing terrorist prisoners. What about citizens in the other 39 states? My guess is, they have their own grandstanding Republicans who will introduce their own “protect our region” bills.

Some researcher needs to count how many of the international and domestic terrorists in U.S. prisons are already in the 11 states Latham wants to “protect.” I know some of the more notorious convicts have been at the “Supermax” facility in Colorado, but the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas has held international terrorists for a long time too.

Republicans across the country are fear-mongering about this issue, but Iowa Republicans have additional incentive to push this narrative. They know that they can’t defeat Representative Bruce Braley in the first Congressional district. Bashing him in front of a wider audience may help Republicans if Braley runs for statewide office someday.

Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn demanded that Braley “tell President Obama that these prisoners are not welcome in the Heartland.”

Representative Steve King (IA-05) got in on the act too, pre-emptively blaming Democrats for hypothetical future deaths:

“Bruce Braley knows there is no rational or legal reason to bring the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to American soil. The bottom line really is that if these terrorists are released, innocent people will die and some of them likely will be Americans.

“Congressional reaction will be a key factor in whether or not terrorist detainees are moved to the Thomson Correctional Center. I am asking Bruce Braley to break with the President and Nancy Pelosi and join me to keep the worst of the worst Al-Qaeda terrorists off of U.S. soil.”

To his credit, Braley is not joining the panic-fest. He visited the Thomson facility on Monday and discussed the issue on Iowa Public Radio the next day. Excerpt from his office’s press release:

Braley was the only member of Congress to tour the facility and attend briefings Monday afternoon to discuss the proposal with Administration officials, as well as local elected officials and residents of Thomson, Ill. […]

“I wanted to be there on the ground myself to find out what types of security precautions are already in place,” Braley said during the interview. “I wanted to speak to representatives from the White House, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Prisons and Department of Defense about the security implications of this proposal and ask the tough questions that are important to my constituents in the First District of Iowa.

“My whole point throughout this conversation has been, everyone needs to take a deep breath, listen to what the plan is, and make sure there’s an opportunity for public input so people have the chance to have their concerns addressed.”

While Grassley and Latham kept beating this drum on Wednesday, Braley told reporters,

“Rather than engage in political fear mongering, I did what my constituents elected me to do,” Braley said. “I drove to Thomson,  Illinois, where I received an extensive briefing from representatives from the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense.

“I’m keeping an open mind, and doing what I can to protect the interest of my constituents and at the same time learn the facts and educate myself about how this will impact my constituents.”

Up to now, most of the mainstream media coverage of this controversy has been of the “he said, she said” variety, which is just what Republicans want. Their hypocrisy won’t be apparent as long as most Americans are unaware that the GOP didn’t object when other terrorists faced trial in this country or were brought to U.S. prisons.

UPDATE: Latham went on WHO radio’s Jan Mickelson program Thursday morning to talk about his efforts to keep terrorists from Gitmo out of the Midwest. Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register’s conservative columnist, John Carlson, reports from Clinton that people are not cowering in fear:

“I’ve talked to probably 15 or 20 people about this,” said Dick McLane, a retired Clinton business owner. “I haven’t heard a single person say they’re worried about a terrorist breaking out or about this area becoming a terrorist target.”

It’s turned into a catfight among politicians, but a lot of people who live here are smiling at what may be about to happen 12 miles away. They say turning the Illinois-owned Thomson Correctional Center into a federally run “Guantanamo North” would bring up to 3,000 jobs to this part of the country, which is very good news.

Clinton is the economic hub of the area, where people from both sides of the river shop and do business. Some of the new prison employees would move to the area and plenty likely would live in Clinton County. The prison itself would employ about 900 people, and some members of the U.S. military also would move to the area. The other jobs would come in businesses that support a fully operational federal prison.

“We’re talking about an economic boom if this happens,” said Tim Clark, owner of Zirkelbach Home Appliances store and chairman of the Clinton Downtown Partnership.

“And I’d be very surprised if it didn’t happen, given the political realities. Clinton would be a natural place for people who work over there to want to live because of what we have to offer. And it’s an easy commute. The security concerns seem way overblown. The place already is set up as maximum security, and that would be enhanced.”

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